What is peer-to-peer file sharing?

Peer-to-peer (P2P) is a way for users to share files.  Instead of going to a Website and downloading an entire file directly (known as a client/server connection), users can collect bits and pieces of the desired file from a group of peers who have the file.  There are advantages to both the user and to the host.

For end users, P2P provides:

  • anonymity (a false sense of security since users are still identifiable most of the time)
  • the potential for faster downloads
  • a one-stop-shop search of all the files available for download

For content providers/Websites, P2P:

  • reduces expensive bandwidth costs
  • decreases network load providing a faster experience to non-downloaders

P2P is a broad classification of file sharing types.  You are using P2P if you:

  • are using the Gnutella network, popularly packaged as Limewire or Bearshare.
  • download BitTorrents through software like Vuze, uTorrent, BitTorrent, or the Blizzard Downloader (World of Warcraft/Starcraft II) and many other utilities, usually identified if you see words like "peers", "trackers", or "seeds.”

Is P2P file sharing illegal?

P2P technology itself is not illegal.  However, P2P has made it too easy for people to share and download content and has since turned into a major destination for pirated and illegally distributed copies of movies, music, TV shows, and software.  Legitimate uses of P2P (such as the Blizzard Downloader) help reduce costs to content providers, but this use is greatly overshadowed by the amount of illegal content distributed through our network and the Internet as a whole.

What are the repercussions of illegal file sharing?

Within UD, students abide by the Fair, Responsible, and Acceptable Use Policy (FRAUP) (PDF) or face sanctions (including a loss of campus network access) from the campus judicial process.

Outside of UD, associations protecting the copyrighted works of movie and music artists have been contacting universities to identify and contact download "pirates".   If escalated through legal channels, these users could ultimately face civil or criminal penalties for violating federal copyright laws.

Copyright infringement is the act of exercising, without permission or legal authority, one or more of the exclusive rights granted to the copyright owner under section 106 of the Copyright Act (Title 17 of the United States Code). These rights include the right to reproduce or distribute a copyrighted work. In the file-sharing context, downloading or uploading substantial parts of a copyrighted work without authority constitutes an infringement.

Penalties for copyright infringement include civil and criminal penalties. In general, anyone found liable for civil copyright infringement may be ordered to pay either actual damages or "statutory" damages affixed at not less than $750 and not more than $30,000 per work infringed. For "willful" infringement, a court may award up to $150,000 per work infringed. A court can, in its discretion, also assess costs and attorneys' fees. For details, see Title 17, United States Code, Sections 504, 505.

Willful copyright infringement can also result in criminal penalties, including imprisonment of up to five years and fines of up to $250,000 per offense.

For more information, please see the Web site of the U.S. Copyright Office at www.copyright.gov, especially their FAQ's at http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/.

What legal alternatives are available for accessing copyrighted materials?

A number of legal alternatives exist for gaining legal access to copyrighted materials.  A fairly comprehensive list can be found at http://www.educause.edu/legalcontent.

Can I request special access to P2P?

If you have a legitimate need to use peer-to-peer technology, you may request an exception for a single computer connected to UD’s network.  P2P exceptions are tied specifically to your computer's IP address, so would not translate to an alternate device.

Requests for exceptions should be sent to helpdesk@udayton.edu.   Approved exceptions for faculty/staff are re-evaluated on an annual basis.  Approved exceptions for students expire each year on August 1.

Workarounds for known issues

Some popular games may be affected by blocking P2P traffic.  Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft and StarCraft II use Blizzard’s own downloader which, by default, uses P2P to distribute patches.  You can, however, disable P2P in the preferences to get the file directly from Blizzard’s servers or download patches directly from Blizzard’s FTP site.  Visit http://www.worldofwarcraft.com/info/faq/blizzarddownloader.html for additional information.

How can I learn more?

Read relevant legislation:
Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA)
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA)
Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005
No Electronic Theft (NET) Act


The University of Dayton restricts peer-to-peer file sharing to and from our campus network, which prevents users from participating in peer-to-peer networks such as BitTorrent and Gnutella.  This network policy is driven by several factors:

  1. Meeting P2P compliance requirements is a mandate of the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA).  While not specifically required, blocking P2P traffic is our “safest harbor” in meeting both these legal and our auditors' security obligations.
  2. P2P traffic creates congestion on our campus network, impeding the academic work central to our mission.
  3. Sensitive information can be exposed when  settings are not properly configured or the application has some nefarious, ulterior purpose.  For example, in February 2010 the FTC alerted a large number of organizations that all kinds of customer data had been leaked through P2P.

Risks of P2P File Sharing

Dear UD Students and Colleagues,

YOU ARE AT RISK if you are electronically sharing copyright-protected music, movies, games, software, and other files. If issued a subpoena by agencies representing the copyrights of music and film artists, UD is legally obligated to provide the requested information.

As members of a Catholic and Marianist university, we are challenged to behave in a manner consistent with our values.  Under our Fair, Responsible, and Acceptable Use Policy, all users of the UD network are obligated to responsibly use our electronic resources and to avoid engaging in the unlawful sharing of copyrighted material.

Most issues related to peer-to-peer file sharing result from misinformation about what file sharing actually is and how one can be — even unknowingly — complicit in sharing copyrighted materials on the Internet. For instance, have you ever heard (or thought) the following . . .

"I own the CD but left it at home / wanted it digitally, so I'm allowed to download it." (FALSE!)

"As long as I turn off the "share music" settings on my music programs, I'm not going to get in trouble." (FALSE!)

"I don't download/upload anything (anymore), so this issue doesn't affect me." (FALSE!)

I strongly encourage you to familiarize yourself with the issues at stake and avoid putting yourself at risk of legal repercussions.  If you have questions about file-sharing, please send an email to udit@udayton.edu.


Thomas Skill, Ph.D.
Associate Provost & CIO
Professor of Communication
University of Dayton Information Technologies